A healthy soil ecosystem: a growing asset that keeps multiplying your profits

"Renewable Farming" describes an agronomic system which naturally renews soil life and greater yields every year. Input expenses gradually ease and profit margins widen each season as vibrant soil life multiplies.

July 5, 2021 Here, agronomic consultant Jim Martindale tells how his clients are achieving it. 

Jim is based in Indiana, serving farmers across the Midwest and into Canada. He has advocated innovative biological ag programs for many years. He was instrumental in developing the CurseBuster vertical tillage implement, which is now manufactured in Iowa. We've tested a few of Jim's micronutrient creations on our Renewable Farming research farm in previous years. 

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By Jim Martindale

First of all, we recognize the importance of a strong foundation for development of disease-free plants. That's paramount since every battle fought to overcome disease detracts from potential production. 

We start with seed quality, as much as we can exercise control over it. In the case of this season's spring pea crop in Saskatchewan (photos), we grew seed for this 2021 crop on the same farm last year, using the same production protocols. We believe there are elements in that saved seed which are responsible to some degree for the vigorous plants we are observing in 2021. 

We have been paying close attention to micro-mineral and macro-mineral nutrition in the soil. Secondly, we credit the soil and soil microbiome with the ability to supply much of the P and K the plant requires. 

We can achieve this because we've amended the soil microbiome with specific strains of bacteria and fungi capable of making nutrients plant-available. 

Further, we have adopted a tillage strategy with the CurseBuster implement which does not destroy microbial populations. The soil is not mixed or inverted. Root systems are not moved. Foraging insect populations return to fields because all crop residues are left on the soil surface. Naturally occurring compaction or weathering influences and traffic compaction are systematically removed, so that the soil infiltrates and percolates water rapidly and thereby experiences efficient gas exchange year-round. 

Spring peas just sprouting in field
treated with biological program
show abundant root mycorrhiza

We support increased density and diversity of the soil and plant microbiome using two additional distinct processes. 

First, we feed the microbiology using Pacific Gro Seafood Hydrolysate at 1 to 2 gallons per acre, depending on row spacing. 

Second, we facilitate colonization of the root system by using carboxylates from fish fermentation in the seed furrow. These are used in conjunction with double chelated broad-spectrum microminerals and our proprietary bacterial and fungal consortium. We are seeing evidence that a diverse and pathogen-destroying soil microbiology is getting established very rapidly. In a few growing seasons, it appears that it will not be necessary to continue applying microbiology annually when establishing a new crop. 

Spring peas just sprouted
in untreated soil, Saskatchewan

We believe this is happening because we have created massive root systems with large populations of fungal and bacterial life, including endophytes, that continually multiply in the soil and in crop residues. The system can be self-perpetuating as long as we do not harm these natural processes.

It's essential to maintain a soil ecosystem that facilitates growth and reproduction of the soil microbiome, including aerobic decomposition of plant carbon sources. This often under-rated element is  more important than most management systems are taking into consideration today. Intermittent and/or prolonger periods of limited oxygen and nitrogen availability to the decomposers undermines the progress we have come to expect. 

As a result we have concluded that the tillage with the CurseBuster is the foundational element to delivering a self-sustaining crop production strategy.
 
Contact Jim Martindale at https://soilcursebuster.com

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Here are some of our own observations underscoring points Jim Martindale makes. 

First, it's difficult — if not impossible — to build a self-renewing, living soil food web of beneficial organisms under a system of aggressive tillage, fungicides, insecticides, systemic herbicides, anhydrous ammonia and salt fertilizers. 

Nurturing your littlest livestock underground requires a paradigm shift from waking up in the morning and wondering, "What should I go out in the field and kill today?" (That's a quip from Gabe Brown, North Dakota farmer who spark-plugged the new Understanding Ag venture and its Soil Health Academy.)

Second, the Soil Cursebuster implement is more critical in Jim Martindale's programs than this brief mention indicates. This is not your ordinary "vertical tillage" tool. It's Martindale's improvement on the original AerWay machine now made by Salford. 

Third, developing a vibrant, perennial soil biome (soil food web) in the Midwest will benefit greatly with multi-species cover crops and rotation systems.

 

Update July 7. Jim e-mailed us a response to our own observations just above:

"I hope you will reconsider the comment concerning the aggressive tillage. It implies erroneously that no-tillage is OK or even better than any other form of tillage. 
 
"I have lived in too many places that have no-tilled for so long that disease is so rampant that unsaleable grain is responsible for the sale of on-farm storage facilities.  I sampled malting barley that was five years old in ND. The DON levels have continued to be so high for the five years that it could not be blended off with a clean crop.
 
"I would like to know the stats on consumption of fungicide for the country. It would be staggering. The reason they are used is because of the increase of crop and soil diseases which have paralleled the adoption of no-till practices. 
 
"How about hypoxia in the Great Lakes and the Gulf? That happens because of soil loss taking blue-green algae off the surface of no-till fields into the waterways. Water Infiltration improvement demonstrations are a magic trick. When perolation goes to near zero, which it does under no-till, infiltration rates soon go to zero too. When a glass is full it overflows. A small glass overflows quicker than a big glass or at least it used to when I was a kid."
 
 FEEL FREE TO ADD A COMMENT TO THIS DIALOGUE.  Use this link to e-mail Jerry ... I'll add your observations -- Thanks!
 

 

Spring peas during early growth stage 

Profuse nodulation on peas treated with
biological program and CurseBuster tillage

 

At pod filling time, peas are setting many pods
and have the energy to fill them
under good biological management